Sir Robert Laurie

by | May 21, 2023 | 0 comments

1764-1848. He was born on 25 May 1764, the only son of Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Laurie, 5th baronet, the M.P. for Dumfriesshire from 1774 to 1804, and of his wife, Elizabeth Mary, the daughter of the 6th Lord Ruthven.

Laurie joined the Navy on 24 April 1780 aboard the Surprize 28, Captain Samuel Reeve, serving with this officer on the Newfoundland station through to the beginning of 1782, and thereafter on the Crown 64 in the Channel from March until the end of the American Revolutionary War. Further employment followed from 1783 aboard the Salisbury 50, Captain James Bradby, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral John Campbell at Newfoundland, and the Edgar 74, Captain Adam Duncan, in home waters. In 1786 he went out to Jamaica aboard the Europa 50, transferring afterwards to the Expedition 44, Captains James Vashon and Henry Nicholls, both vessels being pennant ships to Commodore Alan Gardner. Thereafter he was aboard the sloop Alert 14, Captain George Burdon, which arrived on the Jamaican station in 1787 and he was commissioned lieutenant on 12 November 1790 before she was paid off in 1791.

Following the outbreak of the French Revolutionary War, he fitted out the fireship Conflagration in early 1793, and he then rejoined the promoted Rear-Admiral Gardner abord his flagship, the Queen 98, Captain John Hutt, in which vessel he fought at the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794, being one of the wounded and receiving an award from the Patriotic Fund.

Sir Robert Laurie

On 25 June 1795 Laurie was promoted commander of the recently purchased sloop Zephyr 14, which had been coppered and fitted at Chatham, and which he commissioned at Sheerness in August. A hot press on the Thames at the end of that month saw her manning completed, and in the latter part of October she arrived at Leith. She was sent back to sea in an unsuccessful quest of a Dutch privateer, and continuing to serve in the North Sea, she was at Hull at the end of January 1796. In early February she was forced to sea by heavy gales at Yarmouth, during March she was in the harbour at Sheerness before returning to Leith, and in May she captured five Dutch fishing smacks on a cruise in the company of the Hawke 16. She was later engaged in convoy duty out of Leith in the autumn.

Going out to the West Indies from Cork at the beginning of 1797 with a convoy, the Zephyr captured the new Bayonne privateer Réfléchi 12 near Madeira on 8 January. After arriving at Barbados on 2 February, she remained in the Leeward Islands and served at the reduction of Trinidad on 18 February. Further privateer captures on that station were the Vengeur de Français 4 off Dominica on 16 June, the Légère 6 off Marie Galante on 6 July, and the Va-Tout off Martinique on 8 July. Upon Laurie being posted captain on 17 July, he was obliged to leave the Zephyr and return home.

In November 1798 he joined the frigate Andromache 32, which at the time was in the Downs, and where she remained for some weeks. On 11 May 1799 she set sail with sealed orders from Portsmouth in the company of the Endymion 44, Captain Sir Thomas Williams, but she was soon recalled by telegraph and instead put out on a cruise. On 31 May she sailed for the island of Marcou before returning to Portsmouth a few days later, and then she departed on 12 June with the Gibraltar, Oporto, and Lisbon convoys, collecting further vessels at Falmouth. She was back at Portsmouth with the homeward-bound Oporto convoy on 25 July, and she undertook further convoy duty via Hull to the Baltic at the end of August.

On 6 September 1799 the Andromache sailed from Portsmouth with another convoy, calling at Falmouth and Cork, and on 3 October she was off Madeira with sixteen vessels bound for North America. She was still on the latter station at the end of 1800 when she embarked the British consul at Norfolk for passage to the West Indies. On 22 March 1801 Laurie led the boats of his own frigate and those of the Cleopatra 32, Captain Israel Pellew, in a calamitous night attack on Spanish shipping in the bay of Levita, Cuba, which saw the capture of just a single galley at a cost of nine men killed and twelve wounded, the British attack having met by three well-armed Spanish gunboats which had received advance notice of the assault.

The Andromache was employed thereafter in the Bahamas and North American waters, being sent from Halifax to collect troops from Antigua in early 1803 following the resumption of hostilities with France. In July she took two French merchantmen off the Virginia Capes which had come out of Charleston, and in the autumn she was reported to have grounded on Cape Hatteras before returning to Plymouth from Halifax at the end of January 1804 after a passage of twenty-eight days and an absence of five years. Laurie left her shortly afterwards.

On 9 July 1804 he was appointed to the Andromache’s sister ship Cleopatra 32, which had undergone a complete repair at Woolwich, and he took her down to the Nore on 1 September, prior to arriving at Yarmouth on the 9th. He succeeded his late father as the sixth Laurie baronet on 10 September, and five days later his command sailed from Yarmouth with stores for the North Sea fleet. On 24 October she arrived at Portsmouth to take on stores and collect a merchant ship for convoy to Bermuda and Halifax, sailing thither on 9 November.

Remaining to serve on the North American station once more, on 17 February 1805 Laurie ran in with the French frigate Ville de Milan 40, chasing her for some time but having to strike the Cleopatra’s colours after a three-hour engagement, losing twenty-two men killed and thirty-six wounded in the process. On 23 February the two shattered frigates fell in with the Leander 50, Captain John Talbot, and were easily captured. When the Leander and the Ville de Milan reached Halifax towards the end of April, Laurie was appointed to the latter, now renamed the Milan 38, and he was awarded a hundred-guinea sword by the Patriotic Fund upon news of the encounter reaching England.

Continuing in North American waters, the Milan was dismasted in a gale which necessitated repairs at Halifax during October 1805, and on 27 February 1806 she arrived at Portsmouth where twenty-five American seamen were discharged in accordance with a general order. Over the next two months she fitted out at the port in order to convey Vice-Admiral Hon. George Berkeley and his family out to Halifax, and she sailed for that station on 29 May with the Quebec and Newfoundland convoy to arrive at the end of July.

In the spring of 1807, the Milan sailed from Jamaica to Bermuda, and in June she voyaged from the Chesapeake to Halifax, where she underwent repairs. By 3 August 1808 she was at Jamaica where Laurie presided over the court-martial of Captain Frederick Warren and his officers for the loss of the Meleager 36, which had been wrecked off Bare-Bush Cay, Port Royal. In the following month she departed Kingston to land one hundred and thirty released Spanish prisoners at Havana, in May 1809 she was off Bermuda, and in the late summer she escorted a troop convoy to Lisbon. In July 1810 she convoyed troops from Halifax to Lisbon, and on 12 August she sailed from the Tagus to reach Portsmouth two weeks later, where she was ordered to be paid off. Remaining ashore for the next year, in November 1810 Laurie was in London where he was one of many callers to enquire of King George’s health at St. James’ Palace.

In October 1811, Laurie was appointed to the Berwick 74, which he took out to the Mediterranean in mid-November, and where he immediately transferred to the Ajax 74, serving without incident in the fleet. This vessel arrived at Portsmouth on 12 April 1813 from Palermo after previously departing Mahon on 9 January, and she was sent around to Plymouth for major repairs with Laurie leaving her on 26 July.

He did not see any further service but was advanced to the rank of rear-admiral on 19 July 1821. During the 1820’s he saw duty as the Convenor of Dumfriesshire, and in addition to chairing various societies in Scotland, he became involved in experimental farming. In September 1829 he arrived at Dover from the Continent, in June 1831 he attended a levee with the King, and he was created a K.C.B. on 13 September. He was further promoted vice-admiral on 10 January 1837, and admiral on 9 November 1846.

Sir Robert Laurie died at his seat, Maxwelton House, Dumfriesshire, on 7 January 1848, and his baronetcy became extinct as he had not an heir.

He was married to Mary Hope, who died at Maxwelton House on 4 June 1847.

Laurie was reputed to be ‘an excellent officer, seaman and gentleman’.